INSIDE STORY: Idol Contestant’s Mother Vanishes

01/26/2010 at 12:00 AM EST

When Angela Martin first auditioned for American Idol in 2007, the Chicago songstress made it to Hollywood. But once there, she learned that her father had been murdered; shortly thereafter, she was cut in the second round. In 2008, she auditioned once more and made it to the top 50, but she had to leave the competition to go to court to settle a traffic ticket.

On Jan. 19, viewers saw Martin, in her last year of eligibility at the age of 28, get unanimous approval from the judges and another golden ticket to Hollywood after singing "Just Fine" by Mary J. Blige during the Chicago auditions, held in August (watch a clip of her audition). She explained that she wanted a better life for her and her 10-year-old daughter, who has Rett Syndrome, a developmental disorder. Simon Cowell said, "You're really talented, you need a break, and you're just good."



Added Kara DioGuardi, "You're good and you try, try again. This is what I really like about you. You're actually listening to the criticism, you take it in and you show up and you're better and you do deserve a break."



In her post-audition interview, a beaming Martin said, "I cannot give up. I think what sets me apart from others is my determination. I'm a go-getter for my dreams, the things that I want, the things that I need, the things that my daughter needs."

It was with that optimism that Martin approached her third Hollywood week. But the day after a family Christmas dinner, her mother, Viola Brown Martin, failed to show up at her intended destination, the house of Angela's older sister. After the family filed a missing person's report, the Glenwood, Ill., police found Viola's car on New Year's Eve in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

As of Jan. 23, Viola is still missing. "We haven't heard anything yet," Martin tells PEOPLE. "The detectives have been calling my sisters and myself, and just keeping us informed. They say they are still just looking and asking us more questions, if we know anything but her friends are calling us, so it's hard."

Viola's tan-colored 1999 Chrysler Cirrus was found in the south Chicago suburbs of Riverdale and Dixmoor, not close to her daughter Latrina's home. "We haven't stopped looking," Martin says. "We've been out in the cold, and before I left to go to Hollywood, we were looking. I think what hurts us the most was they found her car but they didn't find her. It was abandoned in a forest preserve in the dark. We just want to know, what were you doing over there?"

Angela describes her mom as 5-ft. tall, about 165 lbs., light-skinned and with blond and brown hair. "My mom's a very outgoing person," she says. "She loves , period, and she loves kids. When see her, they just need to say, 'You need to call your kids,' and she would probably break down and you will know it's her right off the bat."

While her family continues to search for her mom and care for her daughter Jessica back in Chicago, Martin continues her quest to be the next American Idol. "The mothers, the other contestants, everyone has really, really held me up," she says. "They have told me they are praying for me. I mean, the mothers of the contestants that I'm in a competition with have been really supportive. I thank God today because I kind of lost it a lot, seeing the mothers and fathers here, but I'm pretty tough."

She adds, "Music heals my soul and it heals my heart and I tell everyone, I have a Band-Aid on my heart right now and I don't know if it is going to fall off soon, but it's keeping me whole and it's my music." --Cynthia Wang

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